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Implementing Intercom-like Videoconferencing? 46

Tangential asks: "I run a small (~100 person) consulting company with developers located in several locations (including SOHO's.) We run a VPN, so network connectivity isn't an issue. I'd like to improve day-to-day interactions between everyone here and I'm thinking of setting up (for lack of a better term) a video-intercom. I want people to be able to see and converse with each other at their desks, much as they would if they were all in the same office. Some of the folks here use Windows and some of us use Linux. I'm looking for a software and hardware solution that will operate pretty well between them and not swamp my systems staff. I need it to carry both the audio and the video connection and it is safe to assume that all workstations and laptops here are at least 1 GHz units. I'd especially like recommendations on which cameras to use on the Linux boxes."
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Implementing Intercom-like Videoconferencing?

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  • I picture in my mind Mr. Spacely reaching thru the video phone to grab Jetson by the collar while yelling. Why hasn't this technologie matured? Think it might have anything to do with people not wanting to face their boss while calling in sick? naw.. it couldn't be that..
  • Looking at Eyeball Networks [eyeball.com], I can't see a Linux version. However, if you had only Windows computers, this would be the system to use.
    • Re:Eyeball (Score:3, Informative)

      by rmohr02 ( 208447 )
      Replying to myself, but o well...

      There seems to be a Linux server, but no Linux client.
    • Linux has *all* the parts and pieces you'll need to put one of those together, what on earth do you need a Linux version of Eyeball for?!

      Simply download and build the right mpeg and mp3 encoders, string them together with netcat over the vpn, code up a wish script to direct it all, and voila! Instant AV intercom!

      Bah, who needs end-user software when you don't need end-users?! LINUX FOR EVER!!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    But i will still ask /., cause they are cheap...
  • by bigmo ( 181402 ) on Monday August 18, 2003 @09:42PM (#6728750)
    work together relatively well. There are some connection issues, but they don't seem to be a big problem. I've recently used gnomemeeting to connect to Polycom videoconfernece units and had success, except with the Polycom FX model. Gnomemeeting will work from behind a basic NAT with no problem. Net Meeting doesn't seem to work with a NAT though, but it sounds like you've got control of that sort of thing internally. I've used GM with a WinTV Go card and a logitech quickcam. I have an odd problem with it trying to load up two copies of itself under Mandrake 9.1 right now, but I haven't really put a lot of time into fixing it so far.

    I used to think all the videoconferencing stuff was just geek love, but after working with it over the last couple weeks, I think it really does add something useful to the interaction.
  • Dipshit in Marketing: "BzzzzzzzZZZttTTTTzgdI{{{lkda;f lkd WUDOJK"
    Me: I said FRENCH FRIES!!!
  • www.cuworld.com [cuworld.com] -- No hardware (other than camera) required. Audio and Video better than Netmeeting. Depending on circumstances, CUworld might be able to work with you on a dedicated solution that includes linux via h323. They host, so no stress on your staff.

    I know in a windows environment you can get up to 25 people in one "room" at once and 30 video frames per second. Would like to see how the linux solution works out myself.

    Hope this helps
  • If you would like some advice about video conferencing you could go to Inview video conferencing [inview.net]. Inview is part of Intercall [intercall.com], which is the third largest conferencing center in the U.S.

    Intercall offers "Complete Conferencing Solutions" for all audio, video, and web conferencing.
  • Three-way (Score:3, Funny)

    by cpt kangarooski ( 3773 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @01:14AM (#6730060) Homepage
    Don't forget that if a conversation involves more than two parties, the video displays should divide themselves up. As in all else in life, Voltron provides the best example of this [emerchandise.com].
  • Have you also though about other things such as an IRC server and IM services? Might help improve interaction

  • by The Clockwork Troll ( 655321 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @02:06AM (#6730277) Journal
    My company, Clockwork Enterprises, will gladly share our videoconferencing expertise with your staff.

    We charge a nominal fee of $1,000 per consultant per day and expect our research will take a minimum 28 staff-days.

    Implementation of discovered solutions is extra, as is bandwidth consumed during research.

  • Webcam (Score:4, Informative)

    by rikkus-x ( 526844 ) <rik@rikkus.info> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @02:22AM (#6730315) Homepage
    I recently acquired a Philips ToUCam Pro 740. It works perfectly with Linux. It was a breeze to make work. Anticipating its arrival, I changed my kernel config to include the Philips webcam module(s). If you're using some nice dist like SuSE, you may have them already built.

    When the cam arrived, I just plugged it in and started gnomemeeting. It worked.

    It works very well in low light, which is handy if you like to work in semi darkness sometimes.

  • by Tony.Tang ( 164961 ) <slashdot@@@sleek...hn...org> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:40AM (#6730568) Homepage Journal
    The problem with a lot of video conferencing software out there is that it's heavy-weight. It's hard to get it running, and by the time you do get it running (esp. in a small company), and sort of chatting over the system ("hey! can you hear me?" "what?"), you wonder to yourself whether you should have just walked over to the person's desk instead.

    I suggest using the Notification Collage [ucalgary.ca], which supports casual communication between close groups of collaborators (smaller teams within your company). It's an extremely lightweight application that has a clean install/uninstall process, and is easy to run (and leave running) all day.

    Close collaborators can maintain awareness of each other using video snapshots, as well as desktop snapshots (both automagically taken at set intervals), and can communicate with sticky notes and chat items. They can share photos and stuff with each other too.

    I should point out that I belong to the lab that created this little app. To be fair, it is a research prototype, but it is quite neat. We all run it in our lab to stay in touch because a few of us telecommute.

  • Asterisk (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dpoulson ( 132871 )
    How about setting up an asterisk (www.asterisk.org) exchange. This way you can also tie it all in with the phone system. Net meeting 4.[67] will work with SIP over the network, and you can use gnophone on the linux side of things. I've not personally tried video with it, but I do use it at home.
  • University College London have been developing a number of multimedia applications -- see http://www-mice.cs.ucl.ac.uk/multimedia/software/ [ucl.ac.uk].

    The VIC tool, which provides peer-to-peer video streaming via multicast or unicast can be used to transmit video images to others whilst RAT handles the audio side.

    It's free, there's source, and it works. We use it here regularly for conference calls with other institutions in the UK and the US.
  • In the early days of our VC implementation we did some network tests with NetMeeting, and found it was extremely inefficient when it came to transmitting video. Not so much of a problem when it comes to the LAN, but you mention VPN so you must have WAN links too. I think the problem was that the compression algorithms were bad.
    It all depends how good an "image" (pun intended) you wish to project. We eventually decided on Polyspan FX and they are superb, but very expensive! I'm currently testing a Polysp
  • " I want people to be able to see and converse with each other at their desks..."

    Don't you mean "conversate?"
  • has a good little product with the ViaVideo [polycom.com] line. As a bonus, it'll interact with other video conferencing units running H.323
  • You might want to check out macromedia's "flash communication server." It's supposedly rather easy to customize and although costs money to buy, will work with any computer with a flash plugin web browser.

    Macromedia's product blurb indicates that the product is very capable of multi-way video and stuff.
  • Why in hell would you want video? Whiteboarding
    is actually useful. URL sharing (including Real
    or divx clips) is cool. But I don't *want* my
    boss to know that I'm bonking his secretary.
  • by b!arg ( 622192 )
    Let me start off by saying I know virtually nothing about the subject at hand. However, I do know that Cisco has a VoIP system that allows a user to have his or her phone extension no matter where they are in the world so long as they have "their" phone and a VPN connection. Perhaps they have a video phone or something along the same lines? Yeah, this is probably an expensive solution, but if you want robust and not "hacked" I'm sure Cisco can give it to you.
  • Here's my general advice on selecting any kind of imaging equipment -- be it scanner, digital camera, or webcam -- don't do your research on "computer" web sites (and I would include /. in this camp). Do it on photography web sites.

    Well, video web sites would probably be good too, I'm just a still image person, so I haven't spent much time looking into video.

    You should be concerned with quality when it comes to imagining equipment, and the best judges of image quality are those people whose livlihood dep
    • And I'll go one further if your doing videoconferencing, talk to videoconferencing people, not IT people.

      No offence to my own profession, but as someone whos worked in both industries, I can say that most IT people are clueless when it comes to VC applications. "Whatya mean switched ISDN connection? Whats wrong with the intarweb?".

      Just an observation.
  • Have you looked into the Flash Communication Server [macromedia.com] from Macromedia? We use it here at the Univ of Akron for some minor teleconferencing and it works great. Since the Flash player is available for many platforms, it seems to be a good idea. There's no hardware needed except a server to put it on (which right now is Windows only) and mics/cameras for the clients.
    The stress on the server with a dozen concurrent video and audio, including some over wireless connections, was negligible. With the computers o
  • It's kind of lame, since it's limited to 1 frame update a second, but I am getting my group to use Yahoo! messenger. We are finding that the video is best used in conjunction with conference calls, as the audio features provided by Yahoo! suck, I think mostly b/c the mics that people have attached to their computers suck. I have heard that Trillian Pro [trillian.cc] has / will have video conferencing as well, but I haven't tried it.

  • I seem to remember Xerox were working on a software system called portholes, you can probably find papers a plenty about it online.

    but then you'd have to either contact them to use it or develop your own based on it. They lloked at alot of the issues raised by this type of software like privacy and the like and why it works, it was trans-atlantic too.

    the only reason I know about this is because of a HCI module I did at university last year.
  • Sure, it's not exactly "conference" software, but if each person runs it, any other people can view the stream. And it's free, if you just want to give it a try. [microsoft.com]

    Of course, windows only...

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